Steve Wozniak’s Startup Privateer Plans To Launch Hundreds of Satellites To Study Space Debris

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak's startup Privateer aims to help humanity get the goods on space junk before it's too late. Space.com reports: The Hawaii-based company, whose existence Wozniak and co-founder Alex Fielding announced in September, wants to characterize the ever-expanding space debris population like never before. Privateer will do this by incorporating a variety of data, including crowdsourced information and observations made by its own sizable satellite fleet. "I think we're looking at several hundred satellites," Privateer Chief Scientific Adviser Moriba Jah told Space.com. "We won't launch all several hundred at once; we'll just slowly build it up." Orbital debris is already tracked by a number of organizations, including the U.S. military and private companies such as LeoLabs. Privateer wants to contribute to these efforts and help ramp them up, eventually creating the "Google Maps of space," as Fielding told TechCrunch last month. To make this happen, Privateer, which is still in "stealth mode" at the moment, plans to build and analyze a huge debris dataset that incorporates information from a variety of sources. "We want to basically be a company that's focused on decision intelligence by aggregating massive quantities of disparate and heterogeneous information, because there's something to be gained in the numbers," said Jah, a space debris expert who's also an associate professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at the University of Texas at Austin. Privateer will purchase some of this information, crowdsource some of it and gather still more using its own satellites, Jah said. The first of those satellites is on track to launch this coming February, he added. This information will lead to much more than a census of space junk, if all goes according to plan. The company intends also to characterize debris objects, nailing down their size, shape and spin rate, among other features. "The catalogs of objects out there all treat things like they're spheres," Jah said. "We're going to take it beyond the sphere, to what the thing more realistically looks like and is." Such information will allow satellite operators and others in the space community to better gauge the threat posed by debris objects and improve their predictions about how long pieces of junk will stay aloft, he added. Privateer will make some of its analyses and data freely available for the public good and sell others to customers.

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